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SEPTA System Status Strives for Real-Time Updates

Transit guide hopes to pinpoint buses, trains within 3 minutes.

SEPTA System Status Strives for Real-Time Updates

Riding a bus or train downtown from Chestnut Hill? Track the line's status, get GPS updates and find out about any delays or detours through one online SEPTA location.

SEPTA recently created a mini command center, with real-time information and advisories on its buses, trains and trolleys. It's called System Status.

"It's really a collection of the different real-time alerts and advisories that were available on different parts of the website put together all at once," SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said. "It's a snap shot of where things are at any given time."

This brings together the TransitView feature, which pinpoints GPS locations of buses, trains, and trolleys, with other alerts, detours, and advisories for other systems. If your trip requires a transfer or multiple modes of transportation, there's only one stop needed on SEPTA's website.

Too Prepared

Following two years of unrelenting winters, Busch said SEPTA wanted to be better prepared for any 2012 snowfall. Last year, traffic increased greatly to the SEPTA website around the storm events, and Busch said the idea was to make it easier to navigate.

"We wanted to have it up and ready for bad weather, so we could quickly share special updates or suspensions," he said. "Even though there were no major weather problems, it's a very valuable tool for people to use."

System Status launched Jan. 23, and avoided any heavy winter tests.

The Features

TransitView debuted last summer, but wasn't as prominently featured on the SEPTA website as it is now. 

When users load the System Status page (denoted by a white eye in a blue box), they get the same regional transportation view SEPTA HQ sees. There's the breakdown of bus routes, regional rail lines, trolley lines, the two subways, high-speed line and CCT—the paratransit service.

Each system has its own updates, with advisories, detours, construction, service delays, etc. The more detailed info comes from the buses, regional rail trains, and trolleys.

Busch said SEPTA worked to outfit its 1,300 buses and 100 trolleys with GPS. Then, it mapped the approximately 15,000 stops in the city and suburbs.

So people can pull up an individual line, and see the vehicles currently running, and their global position.

While talking to Busch on the phone, I monitored the Route 27 bus and watched the bus icons dance through Roxborough to progress to their Plymouth Meeting Mall or Center City Philadelphia final destinations.

The GPS updates every three minutes, so it's not an exact location, but can give you a much better reading then before.

The Future

SEPTA's mobile website works pretty well, but doesn't easily display the solid features available on the desktop site.

From smart phones, Busch said basic alerts and advisories have prominent positioning, as is the TrainView, which details what regional rail is next to arrive.

Users must access the desktop site to see System Status, and it's tough to pull up the quality image available on a personal computer.

"We've been trying to improve our offerings, and I think we're getting there. There's still improvements, of course," Busch said.

Busch said SEPTA's partnership with Google Transit provides a lot of mobile information, as well.

To view System Status, click here.

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